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Car reviews - Nissan - Pathfinder - ST TDI 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious, well thought-out interior new-found mid-range torque
Room for improvement
Fit and finish turbo lag ride quality

24 Sep 2010

WAGON buyers have such enormous choice with the proliferation of SUVs in the market – there has been a broadening of not only choice but also packaging and refinement.

The old-school separate-chassis 4WD with its cart-like ride and container-ship dynamics just doesn’t appeal to very many buyers who just want a wagon that takes lots of kids and their stuff but who would never buy a regular wagon.

They want the likes of a Ford Territory, thanks very much, with real handling and a good ride, plus a decent lick of performance.

Yet there are a few manufacturers out there that think part of the market still wants to have a real 4WD – and clearly, given the success of the Toyota Prado, for example, there remains a strong market for such a wagon.

Nissan is also keeping the faith with its Pathfinder.

The latest R51-series Pathfinder has been here since 2005, and while it has kept the dual-range transmission and separate chassis of a ‘real’ 4WD, its suspension is independent. In theory, this would provide the best of both worlds - a good off-roader that has the makings of good ride and handling.

The 2010 update to the R51 Pathfinder includes minor cosmetic changes and increased power and torque from the diesel engine. Because V6 petrol sales just never really got momentum, it has been pulled from the market, leaving just the four-cylinder turbo-diesel with the option of either six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

If you can spot the facelifted Pathfinder from a distance, you’re doing better than us. Anew bonnet, grille and a more rounded, longer-profile bumper are hard to pick, as is the 80mm in length the new bumper adds to the Pathfinder overall.

Trainspotters might also like to note the reshaped rear bumper and side repeaters now incorporated in the mirrors.

It’s not a bad thing that Nissan hasn’t changed the Pathfinder’s appearance much, though, because it was always a handsome truck and draws more design cues from the concept it is based on (the Dunehawk, shown at Frankfurt in 2003) than many production SUVs.

The Pathfinder cabin is a big, well-sorted space, with a sensible amount of seat folding and partitioning to load most buyers' varied cargo.

Seats are comfortable and the driving position accommodating, except that these is no steering wheel rake adjustment. Side mirrors are large and the view out of the Pathfinder is better than some of its ilk.

Controls and instruments are for the most part where you’d expect, but not quite made as well as you would think in a $50K wagon.

The fit and finish out of the Spanish factory that builds Pathfinder is not exemplary, and this is most evident in the inconsistent joins in the interior panelling and trim.

An engine resonance consistent with the engine spinning at around 2500rpm could be heard and felt in the left-hand side of the dashboard in our test vehicle this is also a carry-over from the 2009 Pathfinder.

The YDK3 common-rail turbo-diesel engine smooths and quietens as it warms from its grumpy cold start, and when cruising noise suppression is very good.

Moving off requires little effort when unladen, with a smooth progressive clutch and although there is the typical turbo lag at low rpm, at middling revs the diesel pulls like a train – the midrange is pretty good in the previous incarnation and now it is only better.

Yet if you put the engine under load, such as when taking off on an incline or when towing a heavy trailer, the engine baulks and the driver is faced with slipping the clutch and increasing revs to get moving , or allowing the engine to stall. This is a trait that the new engine inherits from its immediate predecessor, the YD25.

The Pathfinder’s six-speed manual transmission is smooth and – with perhaps the exception of a too-tall first gear – ratios appear well matched to the engine.

The Pathfinder’s ride is composed during highway-speed touring, but that comes at the cost of a fussy ride at lower speeds.

The steering lacks feel – which should come as no surprise to anyone buying a SUV with good off-road ability –and the Pathfinder is not especially agile through corners, but it still just pips the more ponderous Prado.

The Pathfinder is better than many of its medium SUV ilk off-road, but it lacks the finesse of better vehicles in the class – such as the Prado. Its traction control and suspension travel are not as good as you might expect.

Finding a new seven-seat wagon that is versatile enough to get the family to the shops, school and work in comfort - and also to a bush camp for the holidays - is getting harder.

The latest Nissan Pathfinder is not without its faults, but it does satisfy the above requirements with ease.

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